Legislature passes abortion bill
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___AUSTIN--Texas lawmakers approved legislation last week requiring that parents be notified if their minor daughter seeks an abortion, a move applauded by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
___After days of contentious debate and parliamentary wrangling, the Texas Senate voted 21-8 to approve House changes in the parental notification bill--which some observers called the state's most significant abortion-related legislation in two decades.
___"The passage of this bill demonstrates that it is possible to craft legislation that should appropriately bring parents back into a decision-making process from which they had been excluded by Supreme Court rulings," said Weston Ware, CLC associate director.
___Gov. George W. Bush, who had made parental notification one of his legislative priorities, assured Senate sponsor Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, that he would sign the measure into law.
___The bill requires a doctor to notify parents if their under-age, unmarried daughter is seeking an abortion. Doctors then must wait 48 hours before performing the procedure.
___"It's not a parental consent bill, but it does reintroduce parents into the conversation, giving them the ability to have some influence on a major life decision of their daughter," Ware said.
___The measure provides a "judicial bypass" for young women who are afraid to have their parents contacted, such as victims of incest. The bypass allows the option of a confidential judicial hearing before a county or district judge. After the hearing, the judge would have two business days to determine whether the minor is sufficiently mature to make the decision without her parents' involvement.
___Much of the debate surrounding the bill centered on the "bypass" issue, with some lawmakers wanting the circle drawn wide enough to include not just parents but grandparents, aunts, uncles or other relatives. Legislators rejected the alternative proposals.
___Currently, 39 states have laws requiring parental notification before an abortion can be performed on a minor child.
___Amendments added to the original notification bill:
___ Changed the penalty for physicians failing to comply with the law from a Class A misdemeanor to an offense punishable by a fine up to $10,000.
___ Defined abortion to mean "the use of any means to terminate the pregnancy of a female known by the attending physician to be pregnant, with the intention that the termination of the pregnancy by those means will with reasonable likelihood cause the death of the fetus."
___ Defined a fetus as "an individual human organism from fertilization until birth."
___ Required the Texas Department of Health to produce and distribute information about the law, both in English and Spanish. In addition to explaining the legal rights of minors under the law, the materials also must include information about alternatives to abortion and health risks associated with abortion.
___In other developments:
___ A bill to crack down on "eight-liner" video slot machines died in a House committee. The measure had passed the Senate and was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. However, the House Calendars Committee declined to place it on the calendar for a floor vote prior to the May 23 deadline.
___ The Religious Freedom Restoration Act remained in conference committee, as differences between the House and Senate versions still had to be reconciled. The act would require state or local government to demonstrate a compelling interest, such as public health or safety, before it could limit the free exercise of religion.
___ The Senate passed an open-container bill making it illegal for a passenger to hold an open or partly empty alcoholic beverage container while someone else drives. The House already had passed a similar measure. Previously, the open-container law applied only to the driver, and police were required to see the driver consume the alcohol.
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